Sometimes cyclists are in the wrong

When having discussions about conflicting road usage, it’s often happens that we blame the ‘other side’.

Cyclists blame motorists, and motorists blame cyclists. It’s easy to demonise a different ‘group’ of road users, when in actual fact it’s never just one ‘side’ that’s in the wrong. Normally there’s problems on both sides.

Most motorists are careful and considerate drivers, most of the time. They act with consideration to the rules of the road, and for other road users. But then there is the visible minority that place their own convenience over the potential risk to the lives of vulnerable road users – and they are the ones that do things like dangerous overtaking, running red lights, and illegal parking.

In a similar fashion, most cyclists are careful and considerate road users, most of the time. They act with consideration to the rules of the road, and for other road users. But within cyclists there is also a visible minority that place their own convenience over the potential risk to other road users – and they are the ones that run red lights and cycle on pavements.

It’s these people who behave badly that give everyone else a bad name. We use examples of this bad behaviour to criticise the ‘other’ group, and if we’re being lazy we attribute those behaviours to the entire group. After all, it’s easier to demonise all cyclist or all motorists rather than acknowledging that it’s all a bit more complicated than that.

So what do we do about it?

Well, there are a number of possible responses:

  1. We take matters into our own hands – we get aggressive and confrontational in a bid to enforce our own views on the situation. However actions like motorists trying to run cyclists off the road, and cyclists banging on the side of cars, never seems to end up doing any good. People get angry with each other, and often entrench their negative views rather than acknowledging they are in the wrong.
  2. We get the authorities to police bad behaviour – we could lobby for road traffic offences to be policed more rigorously, and prosecuted more fully. This might work, but you end up criminalising people who don’t necessarily think they’re doing anything that wrong. And, of course, you can’t put a Guard on every street corner – and some might say it would be better to use their limited resources for dealing with more serious crime.
  3. We could accept the situation for what it is – and accept that some people are always going to behave selfishly. The very definition of stress is getting upset about something over which you have no control, and we have no control over how other people act. So rather than getting angry over the actions of others – especially people who often have no clue you are upset with them – you can decide to change your reaction to the situation. Once you accept that others sometimes act with disregard to you, and stop trying to ‘change them’ in your mind, you’ll feel a lot better about it!
  4. We could educate people to be more mindful of others – rather than demonising and criticising people because of their actions, try instead to explain the consequences of their actions on others. Try to get them to empathise with how others feel, and people will in themselves begin to act less selfishly. A driver, who understands how their bad parking puts cyclists in danger, would hopefully decide to park with more consideration in the future. And a cyclist that runs red lights, who understands how it might frighten drivers and pedestrians trying to cross their path, might decide to stop and wait at the lights.

Personally I’m more of a fan of responses 3 and 4, as they involve changing the hearts and mind of all road users – and teach us to share the road and be considerate of all road users.

Richard Bloomfield

Richard is the founder of Dublin Bike Blog. He commutes to work every day by bike, come rain or shine, on his Dutch city bike. You can read more from Richard on his blog richardbloomfield.ie.

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